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James Hibberd



Ben the Frank

July 20, 2006 7:39 PM

When the fall 2006-07 season begins, Ben Silverman will be able to say something no other executive producer can: he is the only guy in broadcast television who has a drama, comedy and reality series on the network schedules.

While he is returning with NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” and “The Office,” he’s debuting a six-year passion project, ABC’s “Ugly Betty.”

Ever since Silverman was an agent at William Morris, he’d been trying to get the project—an English-language adaptation of one of the most successful Spanish-language telenovelas in history—on U.S. television.

The first attempt was as a half-hour comedy, but the tone was off. Another write couldn’t find the voice. But once Silverman added producer Salma Hayek and writer Silvio Horta, things took off.

While “Betty” is plenty campy and fun, there are some serious issues of race and class being discussed in the series, Silverman said after the show’s TCA session Tuesday. The modest Latin American family that title character Betty comes from is in stark contrast to the WASP-y media dynasty her boss stands for. For Silverman, it is a true picture of New York City.

“People cast in a hyper-P.C. way,” he said. Every arresting officer is Latin, every judge is black, and every criminal is white. They kind of reverted to a reverse PC. We’re showing a real issue here, in that her dad has issues with the HMO, they live in row houses in Queens. We’re not pretending to populate one world. The fact is there are issues that relate to being a first-generation immigrant that go deeper. It’s not like you wake up in America and you’re Warren Buffett. We want to show there are elements that make certain journeys harder, and to reflect that in an honest way. I just hate that you can’t have a dialogue. I’d rather live in the bull’s eye of ‘why are you calling it that’ or being provocative, if it enables people to have a conversation.”

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Comments (1)

There is a version of this story on Univision now called "La Fea Mas Bella." It's very goofy. I doubt that American versions of telenovelas will go as far into melodrama or silliness as the original versions do, so they probably won't be as much fun or as popular.

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